Archive | Flowers and Plants

Annual, perennial and interesting flowers with advice on culture, information, tips and recommended varieties

Glad to be Planting Gladioli Again


Every dog may have it’s day but great plant species move in and out of fashion. Now 2018 it is the turn of Gladioli to retake center stage. In the 1960’s and 70’s  Galdiolus were all the rage and for many gardeners they were top of the popularity stakes. In 2018 they are making a well deserved come back if the media are to be believed. (the media pick up from the trade who must have been undertaking some stock building activities to establish good quantities of corms for sale). I for one have been lead astray by newspaper and magazine articles, vivid coloured packaging of a vibrancy yellow Glad and some carefully targeted adverts. I get these annual urges to focus one plant or group of plants for the year and 2018 is the turn of the gladiolus.

After digging out an old bed 7×7 feet square I planned to grow some sweetpeas and Glads  so after the orders were placed I watched some ‘how too’s  on youtube’ for a refresher course.

I am not growing for showing so my Gladioli can be grown in a relatively small area hopefully with good results for cut flowers.

So revisiting Gladioli

Top 5 Gladioli Lessons

  1. There are approximately 260 species of Gladiolus largely endemic in Southern Africa. Plenty of variety to experiment with. Find out more from The British Gladioli Society
  2. Treated as annuals you can plant Gladioli quite tightly with 70 or so to a square yard.
  3. Plant deeper than you expect say 6″ in a trench with  sand at the base to aid drainage.
  4. You can get good results by starting the corms off in damp sand to get good roots.
  5. The larger the variety more more important it is to stake the plants.

Related image

 Pricilla florets with 6 – 7 per stem on erect spikes with pointed sword-like leaves.

Gladioli are the flower of choice for 40th wedding anniversaries. It is too late for me and the missus now…The official flowers of fifty years of marriage are yellow roses and violets so that will have to do.

Other GTips

Gladioli 100 Day Display

Prize Gladioli Growing & Showing


Rhubarb All the Talk at a Local Society

RhubarbEarly Spring Rhubarb breaking Through

What Does Rhubarb Mean to You

  • Rhubarb is a vegetable that thinks it is a fruit and has royal pretensions with top varieties called Victoria and Early Albert
  • Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb is an indistinct chant  or none sense word shouted out in an unsynchronised manner at a public event.
  • ‘A rhubarb’ is baseball slang for a fight or argument among players.
  •   “Stop talking rhubarb”. Complete and utter balderdash and b*****s.
  • Stewed or in a pie it is the food of gods. Even raw with the stick end just dipped in a little sugar – gear nosh.
  • Already his year I have had Rhubarb flavoured gin and a special cider flavoured as Rhubarb and custard.
  • According to some ‘Its very name means “food of the barbarians” the people who live beyond the Rha, now the river Volga’.
  • To some less fortunate Rhubarb is a strong purgative.

In Praise of Growing Rhubarb

  • It is one of the earliest crops in the garden.
  • It can be forced into even earlier cropping if kept in the dark with a bit of warmth eg from a straw wrapper in an upturned bucket. The stems will then be thin, blanched pink and juicy.
  • Rhubarb is hardy and if fed and watered will produce for many years.
  • The big leaves are easy to compost. Even though they contain Oxalic acid they do no harm in the compost heap.

Young Stems



Chelsea Blue

I like a good strong blue in the garden and not because Chelsea FC play in a blue soccer strip. With the 2018 Chelsea flower show on the RHS calendar I have selected a few photographs to highlight my favourite colour.

Hydrangea Macrophylla

The faceless pansy can be a substitute for a viola it plays well as a center forward or in midfield.

In goal we must have the African with the furry edged petals in Violet

The B team Allium is just getting back into form after a long layoff. A mid season injury saw a 4 week metatarsal break disrupt his training.

Anemone and Ranunculus in defense occasionally charging down the wings


Pentas – Urge to Grow Five Annuals

Pentas are semi-tropical shrubs grown as annuals that will be ideal if we have a long warm summer. (What is one of those I hear you ask?) They may last through a mild winter and gradually become a woody a 3 foot high shrub .

How to Grow Pentas

  • The nectar-rich blossoms grow in 3” clusters over a long blooming season in vibrant red, white, pink, and purple shades.
  • Bees and butterflies are attracted to them due to the open flowers and high insect food content.
  • Pentas will tolerate some shade but perform best in full sun that is also attractive to the butterflies.
  • Pentas appreciate a mildly acidic soil above pH 5.5
  • Grow from fresh saved or purchased seed providing light for germination. Don’t cover them with soil when sowing.
  • Soft wood cuttings may be grown in a greenhouse.
  • To avoid leggy growth keep in the sun and provide moisture rich soil.

Pentas Varieties to Try

  • Penta lanceolata belongs to the Rubiaceae family are often called “Egyptian Star Flower” due to the flower’s shape.They are very popular in the USA where the following varieties may be acquired.
  • ‘Butterfly’ series: Easy to grow from seed
  • ‘Graffiti’ series: Compact mounding plants
  • ‘Kaleidoscope Appleblossom’: Pale pink and rose on the same flower; an early bloomer
  • ‘New Look’ series: Upright plants that don’t flop
  • ‘Northern Lights’: Continues to produce pale lavender flowers in cool temperatures
  • Other common names for Pentas include star flower  or star cluster.

Another view of the same plant


Why Choose Cyclamen

I coum early to Cyclamen (in the same way I came late to Chrysanthemums). Sorry, good gardening is no laughing matter but I like to plant a pun or two to see how they grow!

Eight Uses of Cyclamen

  • As a houseplant to brighten up your room
  • As a gift for someone else to brighten their room or day.
  • As a thank you, birthday gift, or as a token when visiting.
  • Historically they were give for people in hospital but the infection control police put paid to such plant based gifts.
  • As a garden stalwart in shade or partial shade under trees.
  • Persian cyclamen send a colourful  personal message or signifier in pink or brilliant white, cyclamen can convey  sympathy and love. Stronger feelings of pleasure, passion, friendship and fun are more appropriate in bright pink, dashing red or violet.
  • Cyclamen plants decorate a patio, conservatory, windowsill or any cool room inside the house.
  • Try cyclamen as cut flowers flowers!


Florists Frilled to Meet you Cyclamen

Cyclamen As a Garden Stalwart

  • The corms will grow in size to saucer or even larger producing the proverbial profusion of purple people I mean flowers. They are also good self sowers with sticky seeds moved away from the parent plant to germinate. The flower stem twists and spirals as it dries then the seed is expelled
  • Single  flowers sit on top of slim stalks and contrast with heart-shaped dark green foliage. Generally flowering in autumn , winter and late spring depending on variety
  • Woodland gardens and shady areas with deciduous trees are good locations of cyclamen.
  • Flowers often arrive prior to leaves which can look very distinctive and interesting during winter.

Continue Reading →


Miniature Pines are Smaller than Dwarf Pines

What is a Miniature Pine

  • Small pine trees have been grown and sold as Dwarf plants for years but true miniatures are raised as clones from potentially larger species.
  • Miniatures are classified as such if they will not exceed 40cm height or width over 10 years. Experts recommend exhibition quality plants should not grow more than 25mm per annum ie. 25cm in 10 years.
  • True miniatures are clones of other pines.
  • They may  grow as spontaneous sports, as bud mutations or seed faults .
  • Witches brooms creating miniatures pines are dense growths that result from virus infection or insect damage.
  • Bonsai are restricted growth plants and not true miniatures.

Miniature Pine Varieties

  • Pinus mugo Donna’s mini 20x30cm cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Mini Mini  globose habit 20×25 cm
  • Pinus mugo Suzi 30x30cm spreading with orange-broan new growth
  • Pinus mugo Zwergkugel 35x35cm
  • Pinus mugo unicinata Jezek 20x30cm  good cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Bonsai Kramer 10x20cm
  • Pinus syvestris Marshall  30x25cm
  • Pinus strobus
  • Pinus uncinata
  • There are many other species that sport or produce miniatures but pines are consistent favourites.

Dwarf Species include;

  • Dwarf conifers are at least twice the size of miniatures after 10 years. As the sign above shows many conifers are sold as Dwarf plants
  • The pine family includes Dwarf White Pine, Dwarf Swiss Mountain Pine,
  • Many conifers sold as Dwarf are just slow growers and will continue to grow into sizable trees given time and favourable conditions.
  • Dwarf Lebanon Cedar, Dwarf Alberta Spruce,  Dwarf Japanese Juniper.

 Collecting and Displaying Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifer is the catch all name for the smallest of the conifer family.
  • The size makes them ideal for use in miniature landscape plantings, alpine or scree gardens, troughs and pots.
  • Miniatures are also popular for exhibition purposes.
  • Restricting the size of a pot can cause the needles on lower branches to fall
  • Top growth shouldn’t extend over the pot. Repot as the conifer grows until you have a pot 36cm or so. There after the miniature pine may be happier in the ground .
  • The main shape and forms of miniature pines are conical, globus, pyramidal or spreading.

Growing and Cultivating Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifers are never likely to outgrow their situation.
  • Pot miniatures into a compost of equal amounts of John Innes no.2, grit and composted bark.
  • The aim is a tight bun with closely displayed needles and a compact display. Fertiliser is only needed occasionally and in frugal quantities.
  • Thatch or dead needles should be removed from inner branches to avoid die-back.
  • Shallow, plastic pots are lighter to move around and should not harm the plants.
  • Prevention is better than cure so treat for vine weevil and dose annually with a fungicide.
  • Top dress annually with compost.
  • Outdoor specimens can be trimmed in spring by candling (removing new extension growth) to retain shape.
  • Plants can be grafted onto clean longer stemmed rootstock but why would you want a tall miniature.
  • Side grafting on to compatible rootstock can be done in January and then kept frost free.


Miniature conifers and especially pines are worth growing in a cold greenhouse or outdoors. There is a range of shapes and colours to cultivete and a good supply is available from Kenwith Nursery growing miniature and dwarf conifers for the last thirty five years.

Kenwith Conifer Nursery


Mahonias make me Prickly

Every winter I am on the Oregon trail for garden scent. My best hope is the Mahonia (aka Oregon grape) which grows very well in various shady parts of my garden and flowers profusely in winter. Regrettably I find the much acclaimed scent is hard to detect but smell is not the only thing that gets up my nose! The rigid leaves have several vicious points on  the arrayed leaves and catch me out many times a year. This is partly due to a 6 foot shrub near my Japanese garden path. I don’t know what made me think Mahonia was suitable in a Japanese garden but there you go. As a deterrent to uninvited visitors the prickles make it as good as Holly and a close second to Berberis.

The stems or branches are an interesting yellow colour but only get seen when pruning.  I prune or trim regularly which aims to keep older plants in shape. Other maintenance is minimal as no critters would make a meal of the leathery, spiked leaves.

Mahonia Oregan Grape

Berries that give Mahonia the Oregon Grape name

What the Experts Say

M. japonica is an erect medium-sized evergreen shrub with large, spined, leathery pinnate leaves and small, fragrant light yellow flowers in spreading or drooping sprays from late autumn to early spring, followed by blue-black berries ‘RHS’

These woodlanders will appreciate a mulch in early spring and a tidy up underneath the main stem.

Selected by the Sunday gardener from over 50 species Mahonia popular cultivars  include

  1. Mahonia x media  ‘Charity’,   ‘Winter sun’ and ‘Lionel Fortescue’  These have large upright yellow, scented flowers. ‘Charity’ can be grown in a north facing spot which makes it a good shrub for a difficult growing area.
  2. Mahonia fortunei smaller 1.2m high 1 m wide which flowers in the autumn
  3. Mahonia aquifolium  known as the Oregon Grape is very hardy   flowering in March and April followed by blue black berries.
  4.  Mahonia  x media Underway AGM a tall grower reaching up to 3m with large erect spikes of fragrant yellow flowers in the winter.
  5. Mahonia japonica a mid sized shrub growing up to 2m.
  6. One to look out for is a new red flowering Mahonia called Mahonia nitens ‘Cabaret’ .
  7. Gardeners Tips    Berry Bearing Bushes for Birds
  8. G Tips  Mahonia  Attractive Spiky shrubs

Uses for Mahonia Oregon Grape

  • The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds can be eaten in small quantities.
  • The fruit are sometimes used to make jelly or mixed with berries from Gaultheria.
  • Oregon-grape juice can be fermented to make wine
  • The inner bark and larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yields a yellow dye.
  • The berries can produce a purple dye.
  • The foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery which functions like holly as the leaves remain rigid.
  • If consumed in large quantities berries can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, lethargy, and other ill effects. Consumption is not recommended but tinctures and essences are available on the internet.

Do We Pay Too Much for Seeds

The seed catalogue season is in full swing and I paused to consider their value to gardeners.

In Praise of Seed Catalogues

  • Good catalogues contain lots of information in an accessible and digestible form.
  • Photographs of ‘best in class’ purport to show what will result from sowing and growing the seeds. Given poetic license for a bit of photoshopping and retouching you can get a fairish idea of what to expect.
  • Many catalogues have extensive selections often with new varieties thrown in.
  • A new trend with catalogues has a ‘Marmite’ appeal as plug plants, grafts, equipment, shrubs and other offers now often take up more space than seeds.
  • The best reason I can find is the browsing facility that you can do from your own armchair. It beats standing at racks in garden centers.

We Gardeners are Paying

  • All the glossy printing and expensive photography has to come from gardeners pockets in some shape or form.
  • Too many copies are distributed, I have had 3 catalogues from Dobies (Owned by Tesco who also own Suttons seeds) with minor differences in content or cover and there is still the cost of postage and distribution.
  • Prices and thus value seem to have drifted adversly over the last few years. No more so than reduced packet quantity, postage or minimum order price.
  • Seed packets designed for retail display are not cheap and to compensate the number of seeds is often very sparse. It is worth considering buying plants rather than risk low germination and seed packet yield.
  • Branding and marketing are now significant costs for most companies and we customers pay. Another good reason for grow your own and save good seed.Seed catalogues

My Seed Suppliers 2018

Wallis Seeds are a small family run business and have been selling seeds for over 30 years. Their aim is to provide good quality seed, in good quantities, at a good price. The packets do not have expensive colour pictures!’ The mono colour catalogue seems to have been discontinued but the supply of seed by weight and or varied quantities is still an economic plus. I have kept my old catalogue for reference as basics do not change all that rapidly.

Another of my favorite catalogues comes from Chiltern Seeds ‘full 2018 catalogue, including the Vegbook, with many exciting new varieties, will be available, as ever, around Christmas 2017. You  automatically receive a copy if you have placed an order in 2016 or 2017,’

Kings seeds are specialists in vegetable seeds and supplies also acting as wholesale suppliers to allotment societies and commercial growers. (They are related to Suffolk Herbs another specialist seed outfit.)

Please do not forget Thompson & Morgan whose sales from this site provide a small commission to help defray our costs.

Marshalls and Unwins are brands both owned by Westland.  Mr Fothergill’s also owns DT Brown, Woolman’s, The Sweet Pea Company and Johnsons but I don’t know who owns them. One way or another we are all paying for the seed trade and their profits.

International Seed Organisations

Dow, Monsanto, Bayer, Basf, Dupont and Syngenta are major chemical conglomerates that supply agriculture. Japanese companies are growing market share.

The “Big 6” have entered into a number of agreements to share patented, genetically engineered seed traits with each other, such as herbicide tolerance and expression of insecticidal the businesses within the industry consolidate.

Other Gardeners Tips

50 Best Seed companies

Top 10 vegetable seed companies


Lifting Your Tree & Shrubs Crown

Giving trees what I call the ‘Royal Chop’ is not as drastic as it sounds. It is one way of controlling the low growing branches that restrict light, create unwanted shade  and generally get in the way. The technical term may be to ‘Lift the Crown’ which has the result of leaving the lower trunk clear of branches and letting the growth starting at an acceptable height.

My problems  started when I couldn’t reach the upper part of the conifer to keep it in trim. The same energy is going into the trees growth without an outlet at the lower end so it gets a bit wider and a lot taller. I pruned out the lower branches leaving about one third of the trunk height bare.

Had I taken out the growing point at the top of the tree the spread of lower branches would have been far wider and been the opposite of what I wanted. Conifers trimmed in spring were not the best subject to learn, on broad-leafed trees trimmed in autumn or winter may have worked better.

What the Experts Say

‘Crown lifting is the removal of the lowest branches to a specified height and where possible should be achieved by removal of smaller branches so to minimise stress to the tree. The crown of the tree should not be lifted to a point which is more than 1/3 of the overall tree height (i.e. leaving 2/3 of the trees height as crown).’ Crown thinning and crown reduction are variations that are also  designed to change the extent of the canopy.  Nick Organ Tree maintenance

‘Crown lifting on older, mature trees should be restricted to secondary branches to minimise stress and reduce recovery time. It is possible to crown lift a tree too much. Chaffin Tree Surgery

Shrubs Suitable for Crown Lifting
Acer palmatum and Acer japonica
Bamboos, such as Phyllostachys
Conifers, such as Chamaecyparis, Juniper, Pine and Yew
Euonymus japonica
Ligustrum (Privet)
Pittosporum tenuifolium
Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry laurel)
Rhododendron and azalea 2012

This is my Copper Beech that has been lollipoped over a few years, in fact it is regularly licked into shape.


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